Finding the right saddle for mountain biking is crucial. As one of the three main contact points on a bike, a bad saddle has the potential to ruin even the most excellent mountain bike ride. Today I’m going to talk about the things to look for when choosing a mountain bike saddle including the construction, materials, sizing, and features that make for a great saddle.
A bike saddle has four main parts.
Starting at the bottom, the rails are where the saddle is attached to the seatpost. These can be made from various materials including aluminum, titanium, and even carbon fiber. There are some performance benefits like improved damping for various materials and designs, but generally more expensive titanium and carbon rails are simply lighter weight.
Next is the shell. This is basically a thin sheet of plastic or other semi-rigid material that gives the saddle much of its shape.
On top of the shell there is generally a layer of padding. Gel, foam, or other materials can be used for padding. Race-oriented saddles typically have minimal or even no padding to save on weight, while recreational saddles are sometimes marketed as offering “extra” padding. New riders shouldn’t assume that more padding in the form of a gel seat cover, will make an uncomfortable saddle more comfortable. As we’ll see later, finding a saddle with the proper size and shape is more important.
Finally, mountain bike saddles have an outer layer wrapping the shell and padding called the cover. The cover is the most visible part of the saddle and should be able to withstand abrasion. Many saddles use synthetic materials, though it’s also possible to find real leather saddles on the market.
While mountain bike saddles all have a similar shape — narrow at the front or “nose,” and wider at the back — there are many different widths and lengths to choose from. The width dimension on a saddle is measured at the widest point of the saddle. Choose the width of the saddle based on the width your istial (phoenetic) tuberosity or, sit bones. The sit bones are basically the spots where most of your body weight rests in a sitting position. 145mm seems to be a good medium starting width for mountain bikers, with narrower and wider options available from most brands.
In terms of length, longer saddles are generally better for climbing, while shorter saddles tend to do well for more aggressive handling. Among the most popular saddles for mountain bikers, the average length falls around 276mm. Womens saddles are generally shorter, with an average around 260mm.
Most saddle shapes generally include either a channel or a cutout in the middle of the saddle to improve circulation. Again, focus on finding a saddle that has support for your sit bones to ensure maximum comfort. Also, note that many saddles on the market today are not mountain bike specific, which means you don’t need to worry about whether a saddle is made for the road or the trail. Some manufactuers like Specialized market saddle specifically designed for off road use.
Prices for bike saddles can vary pretty widely, with budget models starting at $35 and high end saddles going for $300 or more. It’s possible to get an excellent saddle for mountain biking for about $100, and that saddle should last the lifetime of your bike.
Here are a few popular lines of bike saddles to consider for mountain biking.